I am of the age where military conscription was very much part of my generations lives.
For all males, when reaching the age of 18, we had to register for the military draft. When I registered it was right before the War in Vietnam escalated and going to war was the furthest thing in my mind. Within a little over a year, it was more than just a possibility but a strong probability.
From 1965 to 1973 hundreds of thousands were drafted into the military to supply the manpower to fight an unpopular war. Just as in previous generations, the military draft was not evenly applied to all eligible males. There were a number of legitimate means for avoiding the draft or service. In earlier times one could hire someone to serve in your place, but during the Vietnam Era one couldn’t hire someone to serve for you, but exemptions could be gained by attending college.
Many young men volunteered to serve in the National Guard or Reserves to avoid seeing actual combat, mitigating the risk yet still fulfilling their duty. It quickly became obvious that the military draft was discriminatory, with the vast majority of draftees coming from the lower and middle classes. The draft became such a contentious issue that the public will was to eliminate it and the military was more than happy to step away from dealing with draftees. In the perfect world of theory, an all-volunteer force could handle the future defense needs.
However, when we, as a nation, entered the 21st century and engaged in two major conflicts, some hard facts emerged questioning the wisdom of our decision to eliminate the draft.
From our shortsightedness, to barely provide enough troops to support the conflicts, we have activated National Guard units, called up reserves and required military personnel to repeatedly go into harm’s way with multiple deployments. It has had a devastating impact on a small percentage of the American population, but in general has not required the general American public to share in the sacrifice, that in the past accompanied major conflicts.
For most Americans, it has meant business as usual except for putting magnetic signs on cars supporting the troops and flying the flag. So uncommitted to the reality of war has been the population and our politicians, taxes have been significantly reduced, even as spending has increased to support the military. Now we have a situation of gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands because of the huge unfunded national debt we have accumulated over the last decade. There is a solution if we want to take it, Mandatory National Service for all males and females at the age of 19.
Under my proposal, all 19-year-old youth would be required to serve two years in National Service. This would include service in the military, service in public health, service in a new revitalized Civilian Conservation Corps, service in public schools, service in child welfare agencies and service in guarding the borders.
All able-bodied youth would go through four months of initial training to transition them from civilian life to service life. During this period of time they would be exposed to discipline, given a series of aptitude tests, and increase their general fitness levels. At the end of the training period they would be assigned to a service organization with the military and border patrol having the first pick. Based on fitness and aptitude, they then would be given further specialized training.
The advantages to society would be to take the nation’s youth and mold them into citizens who understand the needs of a larger society, provide the nation with important services, teach them how to work, help them mature, understand directed and disciplined behavior, provide them with basic life skills and reduce the numbers of listless, goalless idle youth.
In my proposal the youth would be paid and housed, provided healthcare and could gain benefits for post-secondary education. For example: Those serving in the military and border patrol would be given funding for two years of post-secondary education at a public institution for each year of service. Others would receive one year for each year served. Other benefits could be low-cost financing for their first home purchase and low-cost financing for business start-ups.
I think that requiring mandatory public service would, over time, benefit the nation by everyone having to put some “skin into the game."